updated 6/2/2005 12:12:00 PM ET 2005-06-02T16:12:00

British fixed-line carrier BT Group Plc is teaming up with mobile phone brand Virgin Mobile to pilot a new live mobile TV service using a digital radio technology.

BT said 1,000 Virgin Mobile customers would get access to Sky Sports News, Sky News, new music channel Blaze, more than 50 digital radio channels and the UK’s first electronic program guide on a mobile via DAB (Digital Audio Broadcast) technology.

“BT ... intends to be Europe’s first commercial mobile entertainment service to deliver broadcast TV and entertainment services direct to DAB-enhanced mobile phones and media players,” Chris Hutchings, director ventures of BT’s BT Wholesale division, said on Thursday.

Mobile operators such as Vodafone Group, O2 and Orange are among those testing a rival technology called DVB-H, or the Digital Video Broadcast-Handheld standard, to broadcast television channels direct to mobile phones.

But the companies, which already offer selected live mobile TV by streaming channels over their high-speed, third-generation (3G) networks, need new spectrum before they can start commercial services using DVB-H.

Because it is a broadcasting technology, DVB-H promises to allow an unlimited number of mobile devices to receive quality channels. In the UK at least,  regulator Ofcom has said more spectrum will only be allocated in 2008 — although companies such as O2 are urging more speed.

BT, which is also working with U.S. software giant Microsoft , broadcast transmission group Arqiva, Taiwanese supplier HTC, radio group GCAP Media and digital radio network Digital One, said DAB mobile TV could run on existing spectrum and transmission networks.

There are two versions of DAB for mobile TV — one used in South Korea, dubbed T-DMB, and another more generic version which BT plans to trial because it uses Internet Protocol, which allows content to be charged for and protected.

“In the long term both (DAB and DVB-H) are likely to coexist,” BT said. “However, in the short to medium term, the availability of spectrum and transmission networks will result in country by country differences.”

BT, which said its four-month pilot would begin in June in central London, said that the wholesale service would allow mobile operators to offer customers access to television and radio channels broadcast direct to DAB-enhanced devices such as smartphones and personal media players.

As one of the only former European telecoms monopolies without a cash-generative mobile operator, BT is shoring up revenues in its traditional fixed-line telephone business with a range of enhanced fixed and mobile services. 

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